After Love *****
Starring: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia
Director: Aleem Khan
An alum of this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough shortlist, director Aleem Khan’s debut feature about a Muslim convert’s grief is a magnetic tour-de-force, with a remarkable central performance from BAFTA nominee Joanna Scanlan. Premiering at the BFI London Film Festival, it was selected as part of the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week and has now found a nationwide cinema release in the UK.
Mary Hussain (Scanlan – Notes On A Scandal) converted to Islam to marry Ahmed (Memarzia), who works as a captain on a cross-channel ferry. Her world is thrown into disarray when her husband dies and she discovers that he was having a long-standing affair with a woman in Calais. Leaving her life in Dover behind, she arrives in France to surreptitiously meet Genevieve (Richard - Cache), only to be mistaken for the cleaning lady she was expecting to help her move house. Slowly infiltrating her husband’s mistress’ life, Mary strikes up a relationship with her son (Ariss), who is also the son of her late husband. But, of course, the truth of who she is can only be hidden for so long.
Joanna Scanlan is absolutely electric as Mary, a woman who has fully embraced and assimilated into a culture that was not her own. With her entire life revolving around this choice she made for the man she loved, the very fabric of her life is shaken upon the discovery of his betrayal, but she loved him so much that this uncovering of the secret half of his life is almost tinged with as much curiosity as it is hurt. Mary’s mental state is portrayed through brief surreal sequences of cracks appearing in ceilings and the white cliffs of Dover collapsing, but the real weight of this comes from Scanlan’s extraordinary face, with grief only half concealed behind her eyes.
Nathalie Richard also gives a tender performance as the “other woman”, who claims to have no interest in the wife of her lover. While Talid Ariss, whose character’s sexuality is a secret from his mother, is a youthful and fervent addition. Together, this dysfunctional triad slowly begin to learn the truth about the man they all had in common and to learn about each other.
This is a tremendously moving film about the complexity of love and grief. Though its title declares this story exists “after love”, the implication that their love for Ahmed is over is decidedly not true. Drenched with as much raw emotion as dramatic tension, this is a lean film that manages narrative efficiency and swift pace without losing contemplative nuance too. That’s incredible for a debut feature.
Aleem Khan is clearly a director to watch, whose hyper-realistic style is counterbalanced perfectly with psychological surrealism. But best of all is Scanlan, who is a revelation here. As she lies on the beach in Calais with waves washing over her face as she attempts to numb the pain of her loss and betrayal, we see an actress so embedded into her character that her reserved presence quietly dominates the frame. With all these brilliant elements woven together, After Love is poignant, melancholy and a stunningly successful film, which is likely to be the best British film you’ll see this year.
UK Release: 4th June 2021 in cinemas, released by BFI Distribution.